Jumper Poem by Tony Harrison – Poem, Meaning, Summary and Poem Analysis

Tony Harrison, born on 30th April 1937, was an English poet and also a well-regarded translator and playwright. He was raised in Leeds in Britain and most of his works were influenced by the background of his upbringing and earlier life.

Few of his noted works are the poem “V” and also his versions of dramatic works from Ancient Greek such as the “Tragedies Oresteia” and “Lysistrata”. He was awarded David Cohen Prize for his recognition of his brilliant work in the year 2015.

Jumper poem was published in 1970s. It depicts a memory of the poet with his mother from 1940s during the World War II.

Jumper Poem by Tony Harrison

When I want some sort of human metronome 
to beat calm celebration out of fear
like that when German bombs fell around our home
it’s my mother’s needles, knitting, that I hear,
the click of needles steady, though the walls shake,
The stitches, plain or purl, were never dropped.
Bombs fell that night until daybreak
but, not for a moment, did the knitting stop.
Though we shivered in the cellar-shelter’s cold
and the whistling bombs sent shivers through the walls
I know now why she made her scared child hold
the skeins she wound so calmly into balls.

We open presents wrapped before she died.
With that same composure shown in that attack
she’d known the time to lay her wools aside -

the jumper I open’s shop-bought, and is black!

Summary of the Poem Jumper by Tony Harrison

The poem starts by telling us what the speaker recalls to calm his fears. The poem directly draws our attention to the intense fear growing within him. Talking about the extreme fear, he recalls the night he and his mother spent in the cold cellar during the war when the Germans were dropping bombs.

He states that whenever he wants a human instrument that gives a patterned rhythm to calm down his intense fear, like the one he felt when the Germans bombarded the place he lived, he remembers the sound of the knitting of his mother’s needles.

The sound of her constantly knitting is what calms him and gives him the courage and strength to overcome any difficulty. Even through the chilly cellar they sheltered during the war and the vibrations and shake of the walls due to the impact of the bombs dropped, the mother would let the scared child hold the ball of wool while she constantly knit calmly without a stop.

Even when the fear of death was beating in the heart of the mother, she tried to calm her composure to spread the strength and braveness to her terrified child. The bombs dropped the entire night till day break after which the mother kept aside her knitting and let the child open the present she bought for him – it was a black jumper that was shop bought and not made by her.

Central Theme of the Poem Jumper

The central theme of Jumper is bravery and courage during dreadful situations in life. The poem inspires how the mother stayed calm and composed and found her strength and belief to not just get herself through a tough night but also her frightful child.

The poem highlights how calmness, composure, strength and belief can surpass all fears in life and helps you reach the brighter side. On a constant basis, the poet focuses and highlights the unaltered attitude and composure of his mother even through the cold of the cellar and the vibrations and shaking of the wall due to the impact of the bombarding.

Through this, the poet tries to highlight how nothing could tremble and shake the foundation of strength and belief she held in her head. The poem focuses on the last memory of his beloved mother.

The poem also brings light on the respect and love the poet holds for his mother. The poet realizes the meaning of all her past actions today and how much of love, care and protection was hidden in those little actions that has kept him strong till date.

Other Themes of the Poem Jumper

Other themes explored in this poem is how the impact of strong incidents in one’s younger days never leave the person till their death. The poet recalls the memory of the war times and his last moments with his mother very precisely and how these little moments influence his personality.

Even years later after this incident, the poet still recalls the knitting sound of his mother’s needles to calm his fears and helps him find strength and inspiration to fight back the difficulties in life.

It also shows how impactful these wars are on survivors and how these dreadful memories always stays back in their heads.

Line by Line Meaning of the Poem Jumper

When I want some sort of human metronome
to beat calm celebration out of fear

The first two lines of the poem describe what he looks out/ recalls to calm himself down when he is engulfed in intense grief. Metronome is a machine that ticks at a constant speed to help musicians stay in time. The intensity of his fear is expressed as “celebration out of fear”.

Celebration is generally used for a positive emotion. The poet has beautifully expressed and described the burst and commotion of fear that he felt in his heart by using the word ‘celebration’. It gives a stronger impact to the emotion of fear he felt.

like that when German bombs fell around our home
it’s my mother’s needles, knitting, that I hear,

The poet recalls his childhood when the Germans, during the war, dropped bombs in his area. It was one of the days when he felt such intense fear and anxiety grow in him. At that time, it was the sound of his mother’s knitting that helped him to stay calm and drive out the growing fear in him.

The poet is reminded of his mother and her knitting needles on the days of trouble and fear. These lines describe how the poet finds strength to calm himself down through the memory of his mother’s knitting needles.

the click of needles steady, though the walls shake,
The stitches, plain or purl, were never dropped.

These lines give more emphasis on the calm composure maintained by the poet’s mother. The poet tries to bring an indirect comparison of how the walls shook on the impact of the bombs being dropped but yet her needles steadily continued knitting. The needles didn’t stop a bit and continued stitching all kinds of styles of knitting from plain to purl.

Bombs fell that night until daybreak
but, not for a moment, did the knitting stop.

The poet says that the bombarding continued for the entire night until the break of the day but not even for a moment, the knitting of his mother stopped. The mother knitted, steadily and continuously throughout the night.

Though we shivered in the cellar-shelter’s cold
and the whistling bombs sent shivers through the walls

The poet deliberately used the same verb “shiver” to express two different circumstances. Due to the bombarding, the poet and his mother hid in the cellar. Cellars were built and maintained in houses for safe-keeping during the time of war. The cellar that the poet and his mother hid was cold and they shivered due to the lack of warmth.

The constant droppings of the bombs caused violent vibrations that led to the shakings of the wall. Both types of “shivers” are contrasted in these lines. The braveness of the mother and her ability to hold herself and pass on the bravery and strength to her little child is being reflected in these lines of the poem.

I know now why she made her scared child hold
the skeins she wound so calmly into balls.

Back then, the poet wasn’t aware of the hidden intentions behind her actions and why she made him hold the ball of wool but today he realizes how these moments washed away his fear and kept him composed and strong. He is completely moved and touched by his mother’s impactful actions that let his little self- spend the night in strength and belief.

We open presents wrapped before she died.
With that same composure shown in that attack
she’d known the time to lay her wools aside -


the jumper I open’s shop-bought, and is black!

His mother maintains the same calmness and no alteration in her composure, she knew the right time to lay her wools aside and they opened the wrapped present. It was a shop brought black jumper (a knitted garment typically with long sleeves); it wasn’t knitted by the poet’s mother.

It seems that his mother did not believe if she would survive the night but strongly believed and hoped that her son would survive and live long. Black garments are generally worn to funerals and in mourning. She was aware that she wouldn’t be able to complete the knitting for her son and thus she bought a jumper for him from the shop.

She knew that her actions shall strongly influence her little son. Though description of the mother’s death is not explained in the poem, analysing the circumstances, it seems that the war was the cause of her death. In totality the poet expresses his deep regards, respect and how moved he is by his mother’s bravery, strength and love even in those last minutes.

It could also mean the mother already had bought a jumper from the shop for the poet but despite that she kept on knitting the entire night and made the poet hold the ball of wool to distract him from the fear and the frightening situation outside and to keep herself and her son strong and calm.

In all the situations, it highlights the strength, hope, faith, belief and bravery of the poet’s mother that still holds him strong till date. He finds strength and inspirations from the last moments spent with her. Even through the fright of the war and the sorrow of the death of his mother, this night is the source that calms himself down during his fears.

Jumper by Tony Harrison – Poem Analysis

In this poem, the poet recalls his earlier days of life in the war times and expresses how his mother holds herself during her frightful last moments of life. The poet expresses his deepest respect and admiration for his brave mother and how strength and belief had helped them both sustain and surpass one of the most frightening nights.

The poet remembers the calmness and bravery of his mother shown that night in all his difficult times ahead. She was doubtful of if she would live long enough to complete the knitting. Thus, she bought a shop bought jumper for her son. The black colour signifies the fear and doubt she had on her own life. Black is generally worn during mourning. She believed that her child would survive but had no hopes on her own life.

Although, she dies after this, the poet recalls this memory with his mother during the hard times. He is reminded of the determined courage, belief and strength his mother held that night at the cold cellar with constant bombs being dropped.

It enables him to maintain his composure, calms his fears and helps him face all difficult and dreadful situations in his life. The mother left the world teaching her son how to find and hold strength and belief to overcome any lows in life.

This poem is a combination of bravery, calmness and also the nostalgia that poet feels in the memory of his mother. As we can see, the poem has been divided into two irregular stanzas where the first one speaks about themes like past, war, fear  where as the second stanza emphasizes on present. The commonalities in both stanzas are the bravery shown by his mother, the knitted wool.

The uniqueness of the poem is that war and knitted woolen are given equal importance where his mother’s knitting has been symbolised to bravery. Through this poet conveys the extremities of war and its effects. Also, he speaks about way of life which is in one’s hand to live bravely, we realize how impactful can one’s calm composure, bravery and belief can do. It teaches us to hold our selves strong and have faith to overcome such difficult anxious time.

In the poem  The rhyme scheme of the poem is abab. The word “dropped” is referred  to stopping stitches,  which usually signifies as to bombs are normally dropped. “Shivers” has been used twice for  contrast of sounds- whistling sound of bombs and calmness of needles.